Chronicles of Martin Hewitt
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"Mr. Mellis knows of the death, I suppose?"
"I telegraphed to him at his chambers in London the first thing yesterday – Tuesday – morning, as soon as the telegraph office was open. He came here (as I've forgotten to tell you as yet) the first thing this morning – before I was over here myself, in fact. He had been staying not far off – at Ockham, I think – and the telegram had been sent on. He saw Miss Garth, but couldn't stay, having to get back to London. I met him going away as I came, about eleven o'clock. Of course I said nothing about the fact that I couldn't find the will, but he will probably be down again soon, and may ask questions."
"Yes," Hewitt replied. "And speaking of that matter, you can no doubt talk with Miss Garth on very intimate and familiar terms?"
"Oh yes – yes; I've told you what old friends we are."
"I wish you could manage, at some favourable opportunity to-day, to speak to her alone, and without referring to the will in any way, get to know, as circumspectly and delicately as you can, how she stands in regard to Mr. Mellis. Whether he is an accepted lover, or likely to be one, you know. Whatever answer you may get, you may judge, I expect, by her manner how things really are."
"Very good – I'll seize the first chance. Meanwhile what to do?"
"Nothing, I'm afraid, except perhaps to examine other pieces of furniture as closely as we have examined this bureau."
Other bureaux, desks, tables, and chests were examined fruitlessly. It was not until after dinner that Mr. Crellan saw a favourable opportunity of sounding Miss Garth as he had promised. Half an hour later he came to Hewitt in the study, more puzzled than ever.
"There's no engagement between them," he reported, "secret or open, nor ever has been. It seems, from what I can make out, going to work as diplomatically as possible, that Mellis did propose to her, or something very near it, a time ago, and was point-blank refused. Altogether, Miss Garth's sentiment for him appears to be rather dislike than otherwise."
"That rather knocks a hole in the theory of self-sacrifice, doesn't it?" Hewitt remarked. "I shall have to think over this, and sleep on it. It's possible that it may be necessary to-morrow for you to tax Miss Garth, point-blank, with having taken away the will. Still, I hope not."
"I hope not, too," Mr. Crellan said, rather dubious as to the result of such an experiment. "She has been quite upset enough already. And, by the bye, she didn't seem any the better or more composed after Mellis' visit this morning."
"Still, then the will was gone."
And so Hewitt and Mr. Crellan talked on late into the evening, turning over every apparent possibility and finding reason in none. The household went to bed at ten, and, soon after, Miss Garth came to bid Mr. Crellan good-night. It had been settled that both Martin Hewitt and Mr. Crellan should stay the night at Wedbury Hall.
Soon all was still, and the ticking of the tall clock in the hall below could be heard as distinctly as though it were in the study, while the rain without dropped from eaves and sills in regular splashes.Twelve o'clock struck, and Mr. Crellan was about to suggest retirement, when the sound of a light footstep startled Hewitt's alert ear. He raised his hand to enjoin silence, and stepped to the door of the room, Mr. Crellan following him.
There was a light over the staircase, seven or eight yards away, and down the stairs came Miss Garth in dressing gown and slippers; she turned at the landing and vanished in a passage leading to the right.
"Where does that lead to?" Hewitt whispered hurriedly.
"Toward the small staircase – other end of house," Mr. Crellan replied in the same tones.
"Come quietly," said Hewitt, and stepped lightly after Miss Garth, Mr. Crellan at his heels.
She was nearing the opposite end of the passage, walking at a fair pace and looking neither to right nor left. There was another light over the smaller staircase at the end. Without hesitation Miss Garth turned down the stairs till about half down the flight, and then stopped and pressed her hand against the oak wainscot.
Immediately the vertical piece of framing against which she had placed her hand turned on central pivots top and bottom, revealing a small recess, three feet high and little more than six inches wide. Miss Garth stooped and felt about at the bottom of this recess for several seconds. Then with every sign of extreme agitation and horror she withdrew her hand empty, and sank on the stairs. Her head rolled from side to side on her shoulders, and beads of perspiration stood on her forehead. Hewitt with difficulty restrained Mr. Crellan from going to her assistance.
Presently, with a sort of shuddering sigh, Miss Garth rose, and after standing irresolute for a moment, descended the flight of stairs to the bottom. There she stopped again, and pressing her hand to her forehead, turned and began to re-ascend the stairs.
Hewitt touched his companion's arm, and the two hastily but noiselessly made their way back along the passage to the study. Miss Garth left the open framing as it was, reached the top of the landing, and without stopping proceeded along the passage and turned up the main staircase, while Hewitt and Mr. Crellan still watched her from the study door.
At the top of the flight she turned to the right, and up three or four more steps toward her own room. There she stopped, and leaned thoughtfully on the handrail.
"Go up," whispered Hewitt to Mr. Crellan, "as though you were going to bed. Appear surprised to see her; ask if she isn't well, and, if you can, manage to repeat that question of mine about secret hiding-places in the house."
Mr. Crellan nodded and started quickly up the stairs. Half-way up he turned his head, and, as he went on, "Why, Nelly, my dear," he said, "what's the matter? Aren't you well?"
Mr. Crellan acted his part well, and waiting below, Hewitt heard this dialogue:
"No, uncle, I don't feel very well, but it's nothing. I think my room seems close. I can scarcely breathe."
"Oh, it isn't close to-night. You'll be catching cold, my dear. Go and have a good sleep; you mustn't worry that wise little head of yours, you know. Mr. Hewitt and I have been making quite a night of it, but I'm off to bed now."
"I hope they've made you both quite comfortable, uncle?"
"Oh, yes; capital, capital. We've been talking over business, and, no doubt, we shall put that matter all in order soon. By the bye, I suppose since you saw Mr. Hewitt you haven't happened to remember anything more to tell him?"
"You still can't remember any hiding-places or panels, or that sort of thing in the wainscot or anywhere?"
"No, I'm sure I don't know of any, and I don't believe for a moment that any exist."
"Quite sure of that, I suppose?"
"All right. Now go to bed. You'll catch such a cold in these draughty landings. Come, I won't move a step till I see your door shut behind you. Good-night."
Mr. Crellan came downstairs again with a face of blank puzzlement.
"I wouldn't have believed it," he assured Martin Hewitt; "positively I wouldn't have believed she'd have told such a lie, and with such confidence, too. There's something deep and horrible here, I'm afraid. What does it mean?"
"We'll talk of that afterwards," Hewitt replied. "Come now and take a look at that recess."
They went, quietly still, to the small staircase, and there, with a candle, closely examined the recess. It was a mere box, three feet high, a foot or a little more deep, and six or seven inches wide. The piece of oak framing, pivoted to the stair at the bottom and to a horizontal piece of framing at the top, stood edge forward, dividing the opening down the centre. There was nothing whatever in the recess.
Hewitt ascertained that there was no catch, the plank simply remaining shut by virtue of fitting tightly, so that nothing but pressure on the proper part was requisite to open it. He had closed the plank and turned to speak to Mr. Crellan, when another interruption occurred.
On each floor the two staircases were joined by passages, and the ground-floor passage, from the foot of the flight they were on, led to the entrance hall. Distinct amid the loud clicking of the hall clock, Hewitt now heard a sound, as of a person's foot shifting on a stone step.
Mr. Crellan heard it too, and each glanced at the other. Then Hewitt, shading the candle with his hand, led the way to the hall. There they listened for several seconds – almost an hour – it seemed – and then the noise was repeated. There was no doubt of it. It was at the other side of the front door.
In answer to Hewitt's hurried whispers, Mr. Crellan assured him that there was no window from which, in the dark, a view could be got of a person standing outside the door. Also that any other way out would be equally noisy, and would entail the circuit of the house. The front door was fastened by three heavy bolts, an immense old-fashioned lock, and a bar. It would take nearly a minute to open at least, even if everything went easily. But, as there was no other way, Hewitt determined to try it. Handing the candle to his companion, he first lifted the bar, conceiving that it might be done with the least noise. It went easily, and, handling it carefully, Hewitt let it hang from its rivet without a sound. Just then, glancing at Mr. Crellan, he saw that he was forgetting to shade the candle, whose rays extended through the fanlight above the door, and probably through the wide crack under it. But it was too late. At the same moment the light was evidently perceived from outside; there was a hurried jump from the steps, and for an instant a sound of running on gravel. Hewitt tore back the bolts, flung the door open, and dashed out into the darkness, leaving Mr. Crellan on the doorstep with the candle.
Hewitt was gone, perhaps, five or ten minutes, although to Mr. Crellan – standing there at the open door in a state of high nervous tension, and with no notion of what was happening or what it all meant – the time seemed an eternity. When at last Hewitt reached the door again, "What was it?" asked Mr. Crellan, much agitated. "Did you see? Have you caught them?"
Hewitt shook his head.
"I hadn't a chance," he said. "The wall is low over there, and there's a plantation of trees at the other side. But I think – yes, I begin to think – that I may possibly be able to see my way through this business in a little while. See this?"
On the top step in the sheltered porch there remained the wet prints of two feet. Hewitt took a letter from his pocket, opened it out, spread it carefully over the more perfect of the two marks, pressed it lightly and lifted it. Then, when the door was shut, he produced his pocket scissors, and with great care cut away the paper round the wet part, leaving a piece, of course, the shape of a boot sole.
"Come," said Hewitt, "we may get at something after all. Don't ask me to tell you anything now; I don't know anything, as a matter of fact. I hope this is the end of the night's entertainment, but I'm afraid the case is rather an unpleasant business. There is nothing for us to do now but to go to bed, I think. I suppose there's a handy man kept about the place?"
"Yes, he's gardener and carpenter and carpet-beater, and so on."
"Good! Where's his sanctum? Where does he keep his shovels and carpet sticks?"
"In the shed by the coach house, I believe. I think it's generally unlocked."
"Very good. We've earned a night's rest, and now we'll have it."
The next morning, after breakfast, Hewitt took Mr. Crellan into the study.
"Can you manage," he said, "to send Miss Garth out for a walk this morning – with somebody?"
"I can send her out for a ride with the groom – unless she thinks it wouldn't be the thing to go riding so soon after her bereavement."
"Never mind, that will do. Send her at once, and see that she goes. Call it doctor's orders; say she must go for her health's sake – anything."
Mr. Crellan departed, used his influence, and in half an hour Miss Garth had gone.
"I was up pretty early this morning," Hewitt remarked on Mr. Crellan's return to the study, "and, among other things, I sent a telegram to London. Unless my eyes deceive me, a boy with a peaked cap – a telegraph boy, in fact – is coming up the drive this moment. Yes, he is. It is probably my answer."
In a few minutes a telegram was brought in. Hewitt read it and then asked, —
"Your friend Mr. Mellis, I understand, was going straight to town yesterday morning?"
"Read that, then."
Mr. Crellan took the telegram and read:
"Mellis did not sleep at chambers last night. Been out of town for some days past. Kerrett."
Mr. Crellan looked up.
"Who's Kerrett?" he asked.
"Lad in my office; sharp fellow. You see, Mellis didn't go to town after all. As a matter of fact, I believe he was nearer this place than we thought. You said he had a disagreement with his uncle because of scientific practices which the old gentleman considered 'dangerous and unprofessional,' I think?"
"Yes, that was the case."
"Ah, then the key to all the mystery of the will is in this room."
"There." Hewitt pointed to the book-cases. "Read Bernheim's Suggestive Therapeutics, and one or two books of Heidenhain's and Bj?rnstr?m's and you'll see the thing more clearly than you can without them; but that would be rather a long sort of job, so – but why, who's this? Somebody coming up the drive in a fly, isn't it?"
"Yes," Mr. Crellan replied, looking out of the window. Presently he added, "It's Cranley Mellis."
"Ah," said Hewitt, "he won't trouble us for a little. I'll bet you a penny cake he goes first by himself to the small staircase and tries that secret recess. If you get a little way along the passage you will be able to see him; but that will scarcely matter – I can see you don't guess now what I am driving at."
"I don't in the least."
"I told you the names of the books in which you could read the matter up; but that would be too long for the present purpose. The thing is fairly well summarised, I see, in that encyclop?dia there in the corner. I have put a marker in volume seven. Do you mind opening it at that place and seeing for yourself?"
Mr. Crellan, doubtful and bewildered, reached the volume. It opened readily, and in the place where it opened lay a blue foolscap envelope. The old gentleman took the envelope, drew from it a white paper, stared first at the paper, then at Hewitt, then at the paper again, let the volume slide from his lap, and gasped, —
"Why – why – it's the will!"
"Ah, so I thought," said Hewitt, catching the book as it fell. "But don't lose this place in the encyclop?dia. Read the name of the article. What is it?"
Mr. Crellan looked absent-mindedly at the title, holding the will before him all the time. Then, mechanically, he read aloud the word, "Hypnotism."
"Hypnotism it is," Hewitt answered. "A dangerous and terrible power in the hands of an unscrupulous man."
"But – but how? I don't understand it. This – this is the real will, I suppose?"
"Look at it; you know best."
Mr. Crellan looked.
"Yes," he said, "this certainly is the will. But where did it come from? It hasn't been in this book all the time, has it?"
"No. Didn't I tell you I put it there myself as a marker? But come, you'll understand my explanation better if I first read you a few lines from this article. See here now: —
'Although hypnotism has power for good when properly used by medical men, it is an exceedingly dangerous weapon in the hands of the unskilful or unscrupulous. Crimes have been committed by persons who have been hypnotised. Just as a person when hypnotised is rendered extremely impressionable, and therefore capable of receiving beneficial suggestions, so he is nearly as liable to receive suggestions for evil; and it is quite possible for an hypnotic subject, while under hypnotic influence, to be impressed with the belief that he is to commit some act after the influence is removed, and that act he is safe to commit, acting at the time as an automaton. Suggestions may be thus made of which the subject, in his subsequent uninfluenced moments, has no idea, but which he will proceed to carry out automatically at the time appointed. In the case of a complete state of hypnotism the subject has subsequently no recollection whatever of what has happened. Persons whose will or nerve power has been weakened by fear or other similar causes can be hypnotised without consent on their part.'"
"There now, what do you make of that?"
"Why, do you mean that Miss Garth has been hypnotised by – by – Cranley Mellis?"
"I think that is the case; indeed, I am pretty sure of it. Notice, on the occasion of each of his last two visits, he was alone with Miss Garth for some little time. On the evening following each of those visits she does something which she afterwards knows nothing about – something connected with the disappearance of this will, the only thing standing between Mr. Mellis and the whole of his uncle's property. Who could have been in a weaker nervous state than Miss Garth has been lately? Remember, too, on the visit of last Saturday, while Miss Garth says she only showed Mellis to the door, both you and the nurse speak of their being gone some little time. Miss Garth must have forgotten what took place then, when Mellis hypnotised her, and impressed on her the suggestion that she should take Mr. Holford's will that night, long after he – Mellis – had gone, and when he could not be suspected of knowing anything of it. Further, that she should, at that time when her movements would be less likely to be observed, secrete that will in a place of hiding known only to himself."
"Dear, dear, what a rascal! Do you really think he did that?"
"Not only that, but I believe he came here yesterday morning while you were out to get the will from the recess. The recess, by the bye, I expect he discovered by accident on one of his visits (he has been here pretty often, I suppose, altogether), and kept the secret in case it might be useful. Yesterday, not finding the will there, he hypnotised Miss Garth once again, and conveyed the suggestion that, at midnight last night, she should take the will from wherever she had put it and pass it to him under the front door."
"What, do you mean it was he you chased across the grounds last night?"
"That is a thing I am pretty certain of. If we had Mr. Mellis's boot here we could make sure by comparing it with the piece of paper I cut out, as you will remember, in the entrance hall. As we have the will, though, that will scarcely be necessary. What he will do now, I expect, will be to go to the recess again on the vague chance of the will being there now, after all, assuming that his second dose of mesmerism has somehow miscarried. If Miss Garth were here he might try his tricks again, and that is why I got you to send her out."
"And where did you find the will?"
"Now you come to practical details. You will remember that I asked about the handyman's tool-house? Well, I paid it a visit at six o'clock this morning, and found therein some very excellent carpenter's tools in a chest. I took a selection of them to the small staircase, and took out the tread of a stair – the one that the pivoted framing-plank rested on."
"And you found the will there?"
"The will, as I rather expected when I examined the recess last night, had slipped down a rather wide crack at the end of the stair timber, which, you know, formed, so to speak, the floor of the recess. The fact was, the stair-tread didn't quite reach as far as the back of the recess. The opening wasn't very distinct to see, but I soon felt it with my fingers. When Miss Garth, in her hypnotic condition on Saturday night, dropped the will into the recess, it shot straight to the back corner and fell down the slit. That was why Mellis found it empty, and why Miss Garth also found it empty on returning there last night under hypnotic influence. You observed her terrible state of nervous agitation when she failed to carry out the command that haunted her. It was frightful. Something like what happens to a suddenly awakened somnambulist, perhaps. Anyway, that is all over. I found the will under the end of the stair-tread, and here it is. If you will come to the small staircase now you shall see where the paper slipped out of sight. Perhaps we shall meet Mr. Mellis."
"He's a scoundrel," said Mr. Crellan. "It's a pity we can't punish him."
"That's impossible, of course. Where's your proof? And if you had any I'm not sure that a hypnotist is responsible at law for what his subject does. Even if he were, moving a will from one part of the house to another is scarcely a legal crime. The explanation I have given you accounts entirely for the disturbed manner of Miss Garth in the presence of Mellis. She merely felt an indefinite sense of his power over her. Indeed, there is all the possibility that, finding her an easy subject, he had already practised his influence by way of experiment. A hypnotist, as you will see in the books, has always an easier task with a person he has hypnotised before."
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